Thursday, June 18, 2015

review + interview || TAKING HEART { blog tour }

Taking Heart by T.J. Kline

Publisher: Avon Impulse (6/2/2015)
Series: Healing Harts, book 2
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Source: Purchased
Hosted By: Tasty Book Tours
Purchase links || amazon | bn | itunes | kobo || add to goodreads

Rating: ★1/2

T. J. Kline's Healing Harts series continues as a soldier suffering from PTSD and a therapy dog trainer find that some scars can only be healed by love...

Julia Hart knows how much good she does training therapy dogs—it's what helped her overcome her own trials after a relationship turned unexpectedly violent. But moving beyond her mistakes meant trusting only her family with her heart.

Dylan, a former soldier, has run out of hope for recovery. Plagued by nightmares and flashbacks, he doubts anything will help him overcome his PTSD. When his brother convinces him to try one last time, he agrees to get a therapy dog.

Dylan didn't expect to find Julia or a chance for a "normal" future again. But when Julia's attacker is released from prison, Dylan and Julia will have to face the past together.

about T.J. Kline || T. J. Kline was raised competing in rodeos and rodeo queen competitions since the age of 14, She has thorough knowledge of the sport as well as the culture involved. She has had several articles about rodeo published in the past in small periodicals as well as a more recent how-to article for RevWriter. She is also an avid reader and book reviewer for both Tyndale and Multnomah.

{ interview } .

-This was my first book by you, but it looks like the western scene is your typical style. What brought you to the soldier/PTSD idea?

While I do typically write western, they are contemporary western and even cowboys (and cowgirls) face real-world issues. Since the Hart family is filled with siblings who seek out ways to help others, it wasn't a far stretch to imagine someone running an abused horse rescue. When I began to plan the second book, I knew Julia was a "softer" personality. Having seen PTSD in action with people I loved, I know it's not something only soldiers suffer from and how debilitating it can be, even years after the traumatic incident. From my own past working with service animals I knew, first hand, the impact they have one the person suffering, whether from a physical disability or something less visually obvious (emotional, psychological or neurological). I wanted to bring to light the value of these animals and how much they have to offer. While I could have given Dylan any number of professions, his heart was also for helping broken people (without acknowledging his own brokenness) so being a medic was the perfect situation for him.

-What was your inspiration for your Hart books?

Heart's Desire was actually a dream of my own - to rescue abused horses and let troubled teens work with them. Since it's something I haven't been able to put into reality yet, what better way than to live vicariously through my characters. But I knew Jessie would have a family that supported her. All of my books have strong family bonds and the Harts were no exception. Once I had Jessie's story worked out, I went to work deciding who her siblings were and how they helped others.

-Where do you see (want to see) the Hart series going (other books, spin-off series..?)

The next book in the series is due out in July and will be Justin's story. After finishing Justin's I immediately went to work on Bailey's story. She'd been part of the supporting cast but as time went on, she began to play a more important role and demand the spotlight herself. She definitely deserves it. I'd also like to go back and write Gage's story. From there, who knows?

-Are you the type of author that your characters speak to you, or are you the plotter type (pantser vs plotter)?

To write at the speed I've had to adjust to, I've become a slight plotter, but very slight. I typically get a very general idea of what I want to happen in a story before sitting down and figuring out the first few chapters. From there, the characters take over. I go where they lead, which is usually the opposite direction of any plotting I've done. However, I have great editors who see the vision in spite of any fog I might put in the way and they are able to clear the clouds away.

-Lastly, what is your typical writing day like?

Because this is my "day job," I usually get up and have my coffee while I answer emails and respond to social media. Then I get to work after my kids are off to school. I'll work most of the day until I need to pick them up. That way, I'm able to devote my evenings to my family and their needs. There are several nights; however, when the story won't let go that I'll stay up and work after everyone goes to bed. But I try to keep my schedule as regular as possible. I think that's important and helps me remember that, while I love what I do, it is a job and I do need some time off occasionally.

{ excerpt } .
Julia gasped as Dylan’s lips touched hers. She’d been thinking about this all night, even dreamed about it, but never thought she’d wake to find his hands stroking the edge of her jaw. His thumb traced the hollow of her cheek and she leaned into him, wanting more but afraid to ask for it. She felt Dylan tense as her hand lifted to his face, the rasp of his unshaved cheek sending fire through her veins and coiling in her chest. Tango moved at her feet, and she gave him a hand command to stay. There was no way she was allowing the dog to interrupt this again.

Dylan’s lips were soft and gently insistent, but his arms were confident as they moved around her back, pulling her closer as he deepened the kiss like a man drowning. She clung to him, winding her arms around his neck, letting him lead the way. It had been so long since she’d felt any sort of yearning that she wasn’t sure whether to pull back or give more. She let Dylan guide her as he nipped at her lips, plucking them between his, stealing her breath and her ability to think. She was dizzy when he drew back only far enough to lean his forehead against hers. The sigh that escaped him was warm on her face.

She could see the turmoil in his eyes. She wasn’t sure whether it was regret or doubt, but she didn’t want to hear him try to apologize. “Dylan, it’s okay.”

His eyes were hot when they met hers. She saw the doubt in them but she also saw desire, and he didn’t try to hide it. “What is?”

“It’s just a kiss.” She was ignoring the fact that her heart was still racing, pounding against her ribs as her pulse burned through her veins.

He laughed but there was nothing pleasant about it. The sound was hollow and sad. “Is it? Is it just a kiss?” He tipped her chin up so she was forced to meet his gaze. She felt scorched by the heat she saw there. She’d wanted him to open up, to allow her a glimpse of his vulnerability. Now that he did, it frightened her. “Because that wasn’t just some kiss.”

“I know.” She hadn’t meant to whisper the words, but they fell from her lips without her bidding. “But . . .”

Dylan didn’t let her finish what she’d been about to say. His lips sought hers again, asking more of her without demanding, seeking what she wanted to give him freely.

Dylan leaned toward her, his hand at the base of her neck, his lips finding the hollow behind her ear, and she arched against him. He groaned deep in his chest, and she trembled in response, her body on fire from the simple touch. She’d never felt this way with any man before, but Dylan wasn’t like any man she’d ever known. Her fingers trailed over the side of his neck, and she felt his scar under her fingertips.

Dylan froze, every muscle in his torso tensed, as if ready to bolt. She could read his expression as if she were hearing the thoughts running through his head. “Dylan, don’t.”
He clenched his jaw under her hand. “Don’t what?”

“Don’t shut me out.” She heard the pleading note in her voice. “Please?”

“Julia,” he whispered, his voice strained almost to the point of being hoarse. “I’m broken.”

She wasn’t sure how deep his scars went beyond those he’d covered with the tattoos, or what other injuries he’d sustained, but it didn’t matter to her. She was beyond the point of thinking with her head. It might be another mistake, but Dylan made her want to trust herself again.

Julia let her fingertips trace the tattoo on his neck and to his collarbone where it disappeared beneath his shirt. “This doesn’t define you unless you let it.” She laid her open palm against his chest, over his heart. “This defines who you are, and this”—she ran her fingers over his head—“decides who you’ll become. We’re all broken, Dylan. Don’t let one bad experience outweigh the good ones.”

{ review } .
When I realized that for this tour, I wasn't up to review it? Well, I hit that ever so lovely 1-click button, because after reading the synopsis and getting back my interview, I had to read Dylan and Julia's story.

I love military romances and I love working dogs. Put 'em together, and I had a feeling that this book was going to do it for me.

It did.

We start out in a scene that makes you appreciate the man Dylan is... Or rather, was. As a special forces medic, he put his brothers in arms before himself and fought to keep them on their feet and their minds intact. Just that brief prologue and you knew without a doubt that this man was going to suffer survivor's guilt. In his seven years on the forces, not once had he lost a man -- and the day that he does, somehow he's the only one who walks away.

Since a young age, Dylan has been the care taker, and now that he suffers PTSD and is living with his younger brother, Gage, he feels that he has failed. He suffers from headaches, PTSD, can only sleep with sleeping pills, has medications up the wazoo, and sleeps with a gun under his mattress just in case he can't deal with it all anymore. The two men he lost in Afghanistan had families to come home to and all he has is his room with four walls. Gage tries to help his brother, but when Dylan's medication routine is no longer helping, he decides to look into therapy dogs --

--to which Dylan puts a firm foot down with a resounding 'No'. While he states he doesn't even like animals, a lingering reason is that he fears that if a therapy dog doesn't work, he will lose all hope in getting better.

Just days after telling Gage 'no' though, he finds himself stepping out of a car with his brother on a ranch with a pretty blonde waiting for them, with a beast of a dog beside her.

What I appreciated most about Julia was that she truly understood what Dylan was going through. No, not the war aspect, but the PTSD and the fears that come with it. When Dylan calls her out on her inability to understand what he experiences, she gives him bits and pieces of her story, not wanting to give the full deal. However, her past shows up and she has no choice but to tell Dylan the whole morbid tale. Part of her was afraid that by her telling, he'd feel guilt-ed into telling his own story, but she assures him that he can keep his secrets to himself for as long as he needed.

When it came time to working with a few dogs to find out his match, I just loved when (after Julia pulled out three dogs already) Dylan crouched by the kennels and quietly whispered that he wanted Roscoe to come out. It was as if while he didn't necessarily trust the process, some part of him wanted to and another part was simply drawn to the dog. Roscoe was an amazing fit for Dylan and picked up on his cues immediately.

Speaking of amazing therapy dogs -- Julia's beast. Her Great Dane, Tango, had such a personality. I absolutely loved him. Beyond that, though, I loved how he accepted Dylan right away. Tango was trained to alert Julia of oncoming people, but after just days of being there, Dylan was able to come up behind Julia without Tango alerting her. On one hand, you may think that Tango was slacking, but truthfully, Tango recognized Dylan as another soul to help out Julia.

I loved that we had two broken people who only saw the best in the other. I'm not sure why, but this is one of my favorite themes to read about -- so long as it's written well (and TAKING HEART is written well). Until Dylan can live without meds and guilt, he will only see himself as broken. Heck, he has the scars to prove it. Julia fears her past and what it will do to Dylan; she feels that without her dogs, she would be nothing more than broken pieces on the ground -- but Dylan sees her as 'perfect and beautiful and flawless'. While Julia has worked hard on the broken pieces and scars on her inside, she wants to help Dylan overcome his inner scars -- but one that will be difficult for Dylan to overcome is his fear of not being able to protect Julia.

I enjoyed the suspense aspect that TAKING HEART has. I felt that some of the (err, most of the) 'surprise' parts were rather predictable -- like a corny horror movie, yelling, "Don't go in the store alone!" but that was ok -- because the parts leading up to the 'predictable part', and the parts following the 'predictable part', were really good. Beyond the predictability though, I suppose my only other issue with the story would be it's a quick-love. Seven days and "I love yous" are exchanged. Heck, one day and hot and heavy kissing happens (eh, but that happens in real life, so I'll let that slide).


It was easy to forget that the time frame was so quick, with everything else going on.

Little brother Gage seeing that Dylan has fallen for Julia so quickly? Not sure how real-life that is -- guys tend to be immune to seeing other guys' feelings and... I don't know. While I liked it, and loved Gage pointing it out, the whole seven-days-you've-fallen-hard bit just doesn't quite jive for me.

Speaking of Gage... here was yet another book this week that had a supporting cast that I... well... supported. Again, like I stated in my review of SPARK, I don't typically care for side stories, but I loved reading about Gage, Bailey, Chase, and Justin (well, and Jessie and Nathan; I will have to go back and read their story). I'm so glad that after Justin's book is Bailey's (hmm, I wonder who cousin Bailey ends up with...? I have my hopes) and that T.J. Kline wants to write Gage's story too. I really liked Gage.

for more reviews & tour goodies,
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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for hosting TAKING HEART! and T.J. for a Fun Interview!